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Marine and Estuarine Science Program

College or University: Western Washington University

Type of degree: M.S.

Brief overview of program: The purpose of the Marine and Estuarine Science Program (MESP) is to provide a coherent program of study in coastal marine and estuarine sciences at the Master of Science level. The MESP focuses resources of the Biology Department and Huxley College of the Environment at Western Washington University to shape a high quality, research-oriented program in the marine and estuarine sciences. Human impact on coastal marine and estuarine systems cannot be properly evaluated without a scientific understanding of their fundamental physical, chemical, and biological processes. The goal of the Marine and Estuarine Science program is to produce well-trained specialists qualified to study fundamental features of these systems and the relationship between natural processes and perturbations from human activity. Graduates will be qualified for entry level positions in the profession and will be competitive in pursuit of the doctorate.

Website: Click here for program website

Tuition (2007):In State: $6,607.50, Out of State: $16,843.50

Number of students enrolled in 2007: 25

For the students that enter the workforce, what are the most common occupations that they pursue with this degree or certificate? Working for state or federal agencies, working in technical positions in research facilities, teaching in educational facilities.

Program of Study:

Description of Facilities: The MESP brings together resources of the Biology Department, the Department of Environmental Sciences, the Shannon Point Marine Center, and other University programs such as Wilson Library and Scientific Technical Services. The University's location provides an extraordinary opportunity for coastal marine and estuarine research. The coastal inland waters of Washington State, bounded by Puget Sound to the south, the mainland to the east, and Vancouver Island to the north and west, harbor a rich diversity of marine habitats and biota. The mainland and islands of the San Juan Archipelago provide rocky shoreline, protected lagoons, and high-energy intertidal beaches. The nearby Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve encompasses 11,000 acres of wetlands, seagrass beds, and mudflats. The channels and straits of the region provide muddy, rocky, and sandy flats, as well as trenches of depths up to 100 meters. The State ferry system provides ready access to the San Juan Islands and the Olympic Peninsula, with its spectacular alpine, temperate rain forest, and open ocean beach environments. The wide variety of macroalgae, crustaceans, echinoderms, and molluscs, as well as other invertebrates and fish, will be of special interest to marine biologists. Diverse avian and marine mammal fauna also characterize the region. These living marine resources support a variety of opportunities for marine biological research. Opportunities for process-oriented research are equally attractive. Local estuaries are characterized by small spatial scales, providing rapid transition from fresh to saline waters and are subject to impact by small urban areas, logging and other dramatic land use transformations, as well as aluminum and petroleum refining. These natural systems, combined with outstanding analytical facilities, permit study and research on nutrient cycling, productivity, biogeochemistry, microbial ecology and water quality issues. The Shannon Point Marine Center (SPMC), located in Anacortes, WA, about 40 miles south of the main campus, is an important facility supporting the Marine and Estuarine Science Program. The Marine Center occupies an 87-acre campus with 3,000 feet of beachfront on Guemes Channel. The 24,000 square foot Marine Education Center/Sundquist Laboratory complex houses teaching labs, administrative offices, and research laboratories. Research space includes a wet room with tanks fed by a running seawater system and laboratories assigned to live animal and plant research. The seawater system includes a diversified seawater tank facility, in-line water quality analytical capabilities and running seawater tanks exposed to natural sunlight. Additional laboratories include one 600 square foot and two 1200 square foot analytical chemistry laboratories, a radioisotope laboratory, a laboratory dedicated to image analysis and research microscopy and a quarantine laboratory. Also available are two walk-in environmental chambers. A standard array of laboratory equipment is available. SPMCs analytical capacity supports oceanographic studies (Turner fluorometer; autoanalyzer, Hydrolab system, liquid scintillation counter, and FLOWCAM), chemical analyses (diode array spectrophotometers, HPLCs, gas chromatographs, CHNS Analyzer), plankton studies (image analysis, epifluorescence scope, inverted scope) and general laboratory support needs (refrigerated centrifuge, ultrafreezer, freeze dryer, microbalances). Other support equipment includes a complete video recording system (with underwater capacity), including a small ROV. Our database provides a continuous 33-year weekly record of water quality parameters, including DO, temperature, salinity, and pH; a 17-year record of chlorophyll a, phaeopigments, orthophosphate, nitrate, and ammonium; and the recent addition of silicates and photosynthetically active radiation (PAR). The SPMC fleet includes the RV FAUNA, a 26 aluminum hull with 175 hp outboard motor equipped with a pilot house and hand crank winch; the RV FLORA (19), powered by a 125 hp outboard and equipped with a diving platform; and our new 32 inboard powered RV Zoea, with A-frame and hydraulic winch.

Program Faculty: Dr. Alejandro Acevedo-Gutierrez, Associate Professor, Biology Department (Ph.D. Texas A&M University, 2002). Behavior and ecology of marine mammals and seabirds, and their role in the design and implementation of marine protected areas. Dr. Brian L. Bingham, Professor, Department of Environmental Sciences (Ph.D., Florida State University, 1990). Ecology of marine benthic communities, with emphasis on larval processes. Effects of larval behavior and post-settlement juvenile mortality on population dynamics of subtidal marine invertebrates, gametogenic cycles, invertebrate larval defense mechanisms, and development of epifaunal communities. Dr. Leo R. Bodensteiner, Associate Professor, Department of Environmental Sciences (Ph.D., Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, 1991). Lotic ecology and aquatic habitat restoration, environmental tolerance of aquatic organisms, freshwater fisheries management, and aquaculture. Dr. Paul Dinnel, Research Scientist, Shannon Point Marine Center, adjunct appointment in the Department of Environmental Sciences (Ph.D. University of Washington, 1984). Marine toxicology and marine ecology, especially marine invertebrates. Also, science and implementation of marine protected areas, especially for bottomfish species. Dr. Deborah A. Donovan, Associate Professor, Biology Department (Ph.D. University of British Columbia, 1998). Marine biology and physiological ecology. Energetics of marine invertebrates focusing on locomotion and wave-swept environment. Dr. Ruth Harper, Assistant Professor, Department of Environmental Sciences (Ph.D., Colorado School of Mines, 2002). Environmental toxicology with emphasis on aquatic systems. Effects of contaminants on population gene structure, bioavailability of contaminants, and development of contaminant biomarkers. Dr. Benjamin Miner, Assistant Professor, Biology Department (Ph.D., University of Florida, 2003). Ecology and evolution of marine organisms and how organisms modify their phenotypes in response to environmental changes (i.e. phenotypic plasticity). Dr. Gisle Muller-Parker, Professor, Biology Department (Ph.D., University of California Los Angeles, 1984). My research program addresses how environmental factors (light quantity and quality, temperature, nutrients, prey availability) affect the interactions between algae and their invertebrate hosts such as sea anemones and corals. Currently, the main focus of our student-centered research is to determine how temperature and light affect the growth and photophysiology of zooxanthellae in anemones and corals. The contrasting conditions for symbiosis that exist in tropical and temperate environments are helping us to understand the role of the environment versus the role of the host in controlling production and growth of the symbiotic algae. My tropical research is examining what factors trigger bleaching and how the symbiotic algae are affected by the stress-induced disruption of the symbiosis with their host. Dr. Joann J. Otto, Professor, Biology Department (Ph.D., University of California, Irvine). Cell motility and the cytoskeleton. The role of fascin in bundling actin in filopodia and microvilli in sea urchin coelomocytes and eggs. Cytokinesis in sea urchin embryos. Dr. John Rybczyk, Associate Professor, Department of Environmental Sciences (Ph.D., Louisiana State University 1997). Wetland and estuarine ecology, wetland plant ecology, restoration ecology, and ecosystem modelling. Current research focuses on modelling the effects of global warming and sea level rise on coastal systems, watershed restoration, and the development of low-cost wastewater treatment systems (constructed and natural wetlands) for coastal municipalities and sea-food processors. Dr. David H. Shull, Assistant Professor, Department of Environmental Sciences (Ph.D. University of Massachusetts Boston, 2000). Soft-bottom benthic community structure and function. Effects of benthic organisms on particle and porewater transport in marine sediments. Ecology of marine deposit feeders, Dr. Suzanne L. Strom, Marine Scientist, Shannon Point Marine Center, adjunct appointment in the Department of Environmental Sciences (Ph.D., University of Washington, 1990). Ecology and physiology of marine planktonic protozoa. Planktonic food web structure and function. Algal and animal pigments as biomarkers for organisms and processes in the ocean. Role of planktonic organisms, especially protozoa, in biogeochemical cycles. Dr. Stephen D. Sulkin, Professor and Director, Shannon Point Marine Center, affiliate appointment in the Department of Environmental Sciences and adjunct appointment in the Biology Department (Ph.D., Duke University, 1971). The main thrust of the research of Sulkin and his students has been to describe the nutritional requirements of the planktotrophic larval stages of brachyuran crab species. Recent work has indicated that newly-hatched larvae are opportunistic omnivores that can utilize a wide variety of prey, including detrital-based carbon sources, at least until they encounter higher quality meso-zooplankton prey in sufficient densities for effective feeding. Specifically, crab larvae can obtain nutrition from a variety of both autotrophic and heterotrophic protists, as well as microbially-colonized detrital particles. Current research being carried out by graduate students includes assessment of the range of microbial prey ingested by crab larvae, ingestion rates on protistans, whether larvae consume microbial prey in the presence of meso-zooplankton prey, and temporal patterns of ingestion and digestion of protists. Dr. Kathy Van Alstyne, Marine Scientist, Shannon Point Marine Center, adjunct appointments in the Department of Environmental Sciences and in the Biology Department (Ph.D. University of Washington, 1988). Ecology and physiology of marine macroalgae. Marine plant-herbivore interactions. Chemical defenses of marine seaweeds. Effects of environmental change on chemical defenses and plant-herbivore interactions. Biogeography and evolution of defenses and defense strategies.

Program Point of Contact: Brian L. Bingham


Department: Environmental Sciences

Institution address: Western Washington University
                             Bellingham,WA 98225

Phone: (360) 650-7400


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This project is supported, in part, by the NationalScience Foundation.  Opinions expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Foundation .